Compliance Solutions for Investment Advisers

Undisclosed Principal Transactions

The SEC recently announced charges against two Houston-based investment advisory firms and three executives for engineering thousands of principal transactions through their affiliated brokerage firm without informing their clients.

In a principal transaction, an investment adviser acting for its own account or through an affiliated broker-dealer buys a security from a client account or sells a security to it.  Principal transactions can pose potential conflicts between the interests of the adviser and the client, and therefore advisers are required to disclose in writing any financial interest or conflicted role when advising a client on the other side of the trade.  They must also obtain the client’s consent.

The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that investment advisers Parallax Investments LLC and Tri-Star Advisors engaged in thousands of securities transactions with their clients on a principal basis through their affiliated brokerage firm without making the required disclosures to clients or obtaining their consent beforehand.  Parallax’s owner John P. Bott II and Tri-Star Advisors CEO William T. Payne and president Jon C. Vaughan were collectively paid more than $2 million in connection with these trades.

“By failing to disclose principal transactions and obtain consent, Parallax and Tri-Star Advisors deprived their clients of knowing in advance that their advisers stood to benefit substantially by running the trades through an affiliated account,” said Marshall S. Sprung, co-chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit.

According to the SEC’s orders instituting administrative proceedings, Bott initiated and executed at least 2,000 undisclosed principal transactions from 2009 to 2011 without the consent of Parallax clients.  In each transaction, Parallax’s affiliated brokerage firm Tri-Star Financial used its inventory account to purchase mortgage-backed bonds for Parallax clients and then transferred the bonds to the applicable client accounts.  Bott received nearly half of the $1.9 million in sales credits collected by Tri-Star Financial on these transactions.

According to the SEC’s orders, Payne and Vaughan initiated and executed more than 2,000 undisclosed principal transactions from 2009 to 2011 without the consent of Tri-Star Advisor clients.  Tri-Star Financial similarly used its inventory account to purchase mortgage-backed bonds for Tri-Star Advisor clients and then transferred the bonds to the applicable client accounts.  Payne and Vaughan together received nearly half of the $1.9 million in gross sales credits collected by the brokerage firm on these transactions.

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